The majority of our decisions about what to eat are on autopilot and often happen without us even thinking about them. Did you know that when you decide to change your diet, over 200 food-related decisions per day are impacted? From eating out to grocery shopping, all of these decisions are well rehearsed.
On average, a grocery store will carry over 39,000 different items. Though variety is considered the ‘spice of life,’ the vast amount of food variety plays a role in overconsumption in our society. Research on food variety and its effects is emerging. In one interesting experiment done with M&M’s candy, researchers wanted to see what would happen if they gave moviegoers more color choices. They found that those who were given 10 different colors ate 43 percent more than those given the same amount of M&M’s in seven colors.
One way to eat healthier is to automate by meal planning. Too often, we let convenience, busy schedules and mindless eating derail our best intentions. Willpower is a resource that gets used up as the day goes on. The more decisions you have to make, the less willpower you have by the end of the day. If you automate your healthy choices, you make fewer decisions over the course of the day, which makes it easier to choose healthier options later in the day – a prime time for overdoing it. You are ahead of the game because you can choose something automatically instead of trying to use willpower. Here is a helpful guideline on how to automate by meal prepping:
- Eat the same breakfast and lunch every day. At least the template should be similar – a protein, fruit, vegetable and milk or starch. For breakfast, you could have oatmeal with fruit or a cupcake, or a veggie omelet and fruit. For lunch, you could warm up some soup or a sandwich and pair it with some fruit. Alternatively, you could have some leftover chicken and green vegetables with seasonal fruit. You can mix things up at dinner and use the remaining willpower.
- Make meal planning and grocery shopping a given. Pick a block of time for planning your meals (perhaps in the car when commuting or transporting kids to activities) and then make your grocery list. Try to shop and prepare meals about the same time every week so it becomes part of your routine.
- Prep food ahead of time. Sundays are usually down days, which leaves time to tackle the preparation. If you really dislike cooking or prepping, consider purchasing prepared foods that fill the bill, such as already cooked chicken breast or various vegetable salads.
- Freeze meals. While prepping on Sundays, also pull out the crock-pot and make chili, a hearty soup, spaghetti sauce, lentil stew, etc. This will help you freeze and fill any unexpected gaps.
Find foods you enjoy and that fit in the five food groups to slowly build a repertoire of satisfying meals. The effort in the beginning will be more time consuming, but the payoff will be worth the effort and repetition leads to balanced, healthy meals. Enjoy!